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Task Force: US Should Make Nation Building Urgent Priority

An independent task force headed by two former U.S. national security advisors says nation-building is no longer just a humanitarian concern for the United States, but needs to be an urgent national security priority equal to fighting wars.

Former national security advisors Samuel Berger and Brent Scowcroft chaired the commission, which is calling for an overhaul in the way the U.S. government approaches stabilization and reconstruction efforts after armed conflicts.

Pointing to the continuing bloodshed in Iraq, Mr. Berger says the lack of sufficient pre-war planning to address public security, governance and economic demands is undermining U.S. foreign policy goals and giving momentum to the violent post-war insurgency.

"In today's world of failed states, terrorism, weapons proliferation and civilian conflict ad hoc responses to such crises will not longer suffice. We need to make improving America's peacekeeping and peacemaking capabilities a top priority," said Mr. Berger.

The report, sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, says following the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the view that failed states were primarily a humanitarian concern changed dramatically.

The commission says the attacks brought with them the understanding that countries like Afghanistan can provide havens for terrorist networks that pose a great danger to the United States and other countries.

Mr. Scowcroft says what did not change was a general aversion by the U.S. government to getting intensely involved in the rebuilding of states following military conflicts.

"There was Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo and they all left us with the reinforced notion that we didn't want to do this sort of thing," he said. "We would fight the wars and maybe the Europeans could do the peacekeeping. What Iraq did for us was to produce a severe shock to this kind of implicit mind set. We came to realize what has always been true, and that is that wars by in large don't solve problems, they just determine who gets to solve the problem."

The task force says the U.S. military needs to be better prepared for nation building and the State Department, not the Pentagon, should be the lead agency for reconstruction.

Task force co-chair Samuel Berger says the Department of Defense needs to give stabilization and rebuilding missions the same priority and planning as military combat operations.

"The military will always have the main responsibility for public order and security in an immediate post-conflict setting," said Mr. Berger. "This means making sure that we have a sufficient number of troops with the right skills and training for demanding post-conflict reconstruction missions. This can no longer be a stepchild for the military. It has to be a core mission that is embedded in our training and preparation."

The task force says the challenges of terrorism and failed states will require the United States to continue to engage in nation building for the foreseeable future.

It says the United States must make more progress in developing a civilian and military capacity to meet the demands of stabilization and reconstruction for years go come.